Nurburgring, Germany, May 28th
After their ignominious defeat in the Targa Florio the Alfa Romeo team brought only two cars to the Nurburgring for the ADAC L000-kilometre race, whereas Ferrari entered three cars with all his top drivers back in harness. The Autodelta Alfa Romeos were driven by Elford/Stommelen and Marko/de Adamich, and the Ferrari team was the same as at Spa earlier in the month, Ickx/Regazzoni, Peterson/ Schenken, Redman/Merzario and the 312P cars were a mixture of those used at Spa and Monza, all looking incredibly well prepared. After the encouraging improvement at Spa, the Gulf Research Racing Mirage-Cosworth V8 was entered with Bell/van Lennep driving and the private 908/03 Porsche of Reinhold Jöst completed the 3-litre class, and the main contenders for an outright win. There are people who think that you must have twenty or thirty cars to make a proper race, but in fact a well-matched handful can be quite sufficient, and a race long battle between two cars can provide all the excitement needed, in preference to one car dominating a race with twenty-four others following in procession. When you get eight or ten cars battling for the lead, as in F2 or F3 racing, they merely get in each other’s way and the outcome is seldom satisfactory.
The ADAC 1,000-kilometre race is now in its eighteenth edition, having always been run at the Nurburgring and always been run over 44 laps of the splendid circuit in the Eifel mountains. Since the big face-lift of last year, when photographers were only too keen to illustrate the bare and barren look after the trees and hedges had been cur down, nature, that greatest of all healers, has taken a hand and beautiful grass verges now border the track and it looks superb. At 22.8 kilometres to the lap and speeds higher than ever, it still remains the ultimate in European road-racing and the real heart of European racing, in spite of the growth of Americanised clinical Autodromes. The day the Nurburgring is no longer used you might as well fold up motor racing altogether. Fortunately the Austrians used the Nurburerint as a model when they built the Osterreichring and the result is first class.
Sports car racing may be lacking in top-line entries at the moment, but there is no lack of entries lower down the lists in the various categories, and as always the Nurburgring race was in reality a number of races run concurrently. There were 93 entries altogether but terrible weather during the practice days eliminated a number of entries and these, with non-arrivals, reduced the number on the starting grid to 50. Many of those who spun off in practice such as the Jöst Porsche 908/03 and the works-backed Porsche 911S of Steckkonig/Schmid were repaired satisfactorily, while others were taken home, but apart from accidents a great number failed to qualify either by not completing sufficient practice laps or not going fast enough, in spite of the ADAC being pretty tolerant in its requirements.
The heavy rain on Friday and Saturday, to say nothing of the freezing temperature, was intermittent with brief dry periods, so that the outcome of the practice times which determined the order for the start was somewhat inconclusive. Nonetheless there were some happy smiles about the place on Sunday morning when Bell lined the Mirage up on the front row alongside Peterson’s Ferrari 312P, while behind them were the two Alla Romeos of Stommelen and Marko; then Merzario in the second Ferrari, alongside Jöst in the rebuilt 908/03 and Hine in the 1.9-litre Chevron of the Red Rose team alongside Ickx in the third Ferrari. The two-by-two line up was for the “Indianapolis Start” (ugh!) whereby the Rennleiter in a drophead Mercedes-Benz led the field round the Sudkerve, up behind the pits, through the northern loop and on to the starting area, where he drew into the pit road and the race was on. Although it was not ruining at twelve minutes past eleven when the start was given, the circuit was very damp and most cars were on “wet-weather” tyres, except for the Mirage which was taking a gamble and starting on “intermediates”. Bell could get no grip at all at the start and as he slithered about on the wet surface a whole bunch or cars roared by the Mirage.
The main race was a question or how soon the Ferrari team dominated things, how long they could keep it up, and who was going to profit when inevitably something spoiled the Maranello procession. The 2-litre class was going to be an interesting battle between Lola, Chevron, Daren, and two old 910 Porsches all run by private-owner teams, and the leader of this class was going to be well placed in the overall classification. Of particular interest in this group was the Lola T290 of Edwards/Scott, which was using the new all-aluminium Chevvy Cosworth engine, while the Ecurie Bonnier were running 1.8-litre cars instead of their 3-litre V8 Cosworth Lolas. The GT category was an all-Porsche affair, with the Strahle-entered 911S of Steckkonig/Schmid having Porsche factory engineers clucking round it like broody hens. Even so the private 911S of Erwin Kremer was faster, as it was driven by Fitzpatrick; another 911S providing serious opposition was that of Schickentanz/Kauhsen„ so the Porsche race was full of interest. Group 2 saloons were also taking part and this included a serious confrontation between two factory Ford Capris, with fuel-injected 3-litre V6 Weslake engines, with a strong force from Cologne running the pits, and Glemser/Mass and Stuck/Soler-Roig driving them, and three BMW 2800CS Alpina-tuned cars, with Pankl, Kelleners and Neuhaus among the drivers, and there was also a Schnitzer-tuned BMW from Belgium. The works Fords had shown such speed in practice that they were up among the 2-litre sports cars, and could not be ignored in the overall results.
As the fifty cars skated their way round the opening lap the inconsistencies of practice were sorted out and the Ferraris took command, in the order Peterson, Merzario, Ickx, in reverse order of their rating numbers, which were 3, 2, 1, respectively. Then came Stommelen, Bell and Marko, and after a gap Edwards with the new Chevvy-Cosworth power, just ahead of Larrousse in one of the Bonnier Lolas, with the two works Ford Capris not far behind, and causing some eyebrows to be raised as well as some red faces among the 2-litre sports car drivers. As expected Fitzpatrick was leading all the Porsches. It took only two laps for the Ferrari drivers to sort themselves out and as they started the third lap everything was neat and tidy, the cars numbered 1, 2, 3 being first, second and third, and already way ahead of any opposition. The Mirage pit were not too unhappy, for even though the circuit had not yet started to dry, Bell was staying ahead of the two Alfa Romeos, and holding a firm fourth place. Hine was getting into his stride with the Red Rose Racing Chevron and passed the two Ford Capris and then the Chevvy-powered Lola, to hold second place in the class behind Larrousse, who was going well as always. At 8 laps the circuit was drying visibly and the Gulf Research gamble began to pay off and Bell set up a new fastest lap the race, in 8 min. 23.8 sec., still a long way from the sort of lap times that would have been done in perfect conditions. On the ninth lap he improved his time to 8 min. 12.3 sec., so that the” intermediate tyre gamble” was really paying off. Ickx and Peterson went by the pits to start lap 10 as Merzario came in to refuel and hand over to Redman, and Bell also stopped to refuel the Mirage, carrying on at unreduced pace, and gaining rapidly on the Ferrari of Redman, which was still on “wet-weather” tyres. Although the track was drying the skies still carried plenty of rain and the Ferrari team-manager decided to leave his cars on “wet-weather” tyres tor the time being, so that lax and Peterson stopped at the end of lap 10 for fuel and to hand over to Regazzoni and Schenken. The two Alfa Romeos had stopped after nine laps and Elford and de Adamich had taken over, while the tyres were changed for “intermediates”, but it was not going to put them in the picture as their quoted 440 horsepowers obviously have very skinny legs !
Redman was not feeling very bright and was under the impression his car was on “intermediate” tyres like the Mirage, whereas it was still on knobbly “wet-weather” tyres, and while he was thinking about the odd handling on the drying track Bell went storming by with the Mirage, so once more the Ferrari stranglehold had been broken by a Cosworth-powcred car; Lanssusse having done it at so with the Belgian Lola T280. Regazzoni and Schenken were safely in the first two places at the end of eleven laps, but Elford disappeared from the lists when his right-front wheel fell off near Brünchen, due to the hub nut coming undone. He skated to a stop and set off to retrieve the wheel, while the Autodelta pit hearing about it sent a mechanic off on the public road outside the circuit, with a spare hub nut. Now in third place, Bell was really having a go, the Mirage standing up well, and he set another fastest lap, as the expected rain had not materialised. He now passed Schenken, who was wobbling about on his knobbly “wet-weather” tyres, and took the Mirage into second place, at which point the Ferrari pit called Schenken in, fitted “intermediate” tyres and sent Peterson off in pursuit of the cheeky Mirage, which was now only 26 seconds behind Regazzoni. The Gulf team’s gamble was really paying off and all round the seventeenth lap Bell was gaining on the leading Ferrari, which Regazzoni was desperately trying to keep under control on the dry road on its knobbly tyres. As he climbed the steep hill from the Karussel to Hohe-Acht he could see the blue and orange Mirage behind him, and that was his undoing; a few more corners and he “lost it” spinning off the road into the Armco barrier, and out of the race, a grinning Derek Bell going by into the lead, with a lap in 7 min. 53.8 sec. Now that Peterson had the right tyres on his Ferrari he was gaining ground rapidly and lapped in 7 min. 47.3 sec. and as Bell pulled into the pits at the end of lap 18 for petrol and tyres and to hand over to van Lennep, the Swedish driver went by into the lead, much to the relief of the Ferrari pit. The weather looked as though it was going to stabilise, though you can never be sure in the Eifel mountains, and the Gulf team left the Mirage on “intermediate” tyres. while Redman stopped for a tyre change, a refuel and to hand back to Merzario. While all this had been going on Elford had got back to the pits, having tightened the new hub-nut on as best he could by hand, and after securing the wheel properly the Alla Romeo pit sent him on his way again without much enthusiasm, being down in thirty-third position. Peterson was pulling away rapidly from van Lennep, as was to be expected, and Merzario was holding third place, with the Marko/de Adamich Alfa Romeo fourth, but along way behind.
At half-distance, 22 laps, the order was unchanged, Peterson (Ferrari), van Lennep (Mirage), Merzario (Ferrari), Marko (Alfa Romeo) and then Richard Scott in the Chevvy-powered Lola T290, only one lap down and leading all the 2-litre cars. When Edwards had handed over to Scott at 10 laps, the car was in third place in the class, having been overtaken by Larrousse (Lola T290) and Hine (Chevron B21) and when Scott prepared to join the race he pushed the fire-extinguisher button instead of the starter-button and the whole car disappeared in a cloud of fire-fighting gas from all quarters. In spite of the delay he got going to such good effect that he caught and passed Bridges, who had taken over the Red Rose car, and Bonnier who had taken over from Larrousse. The two factory Ford Capris were running like clockwork and were now ninth and tenth overall, the BMW opposition not materialising as expected, and Fitzpatrick and Kremer were still leading all the 911 Porsches.
For a brief moment the sun shone on the freezing cold pit area, which is situated on one of the highest points of the Nurburgring, but it did not last, though at least the rain kept off. At 25 laps the leading Ferrari was into the pits for fuel and for Schenken to take over, and the front tyres were changed, as they were wearing badly, new “intermediates” being fitted, in spite of the high rate of wear on the dry surface, as obviously Peter Schetty was gambling on more dampness appearing. On the next lap the Mirage stopped for fuel and for Bell to take over, and the Gulf team took another gamble, and changed all four wheels to “dry-weather” slicks. They had nothing to lose, as on equal tyres they could not match the leading Ferrari, and had lost their initial tyre advantage, so it was worth having a go on “slick” tyres as long as the rain held off. Merzario came in just after the Mirage and Redman took over the Ferrari hiccoughing away on the starter motor as the clutch had gone solid, the Lancastrian driving on changing gear without the clutch, and he was back in the race before the Mirage team had completed their wheel change, so the order was now Schenken (Ferrari), Redman (Ferrari) and Bell (Mirage), with the Marko/de Adamich Alfa Romeo still fourth, followed by the Edwards/Scott Lola, the Hine/Bridges Chevron and the Larrousse/Bonnier Lola. The Barclays’ Bank Lola of Edwards was in dire trouble, for Scott’s rapid progress, which included a lap in 8 min. 15.1 sec., had caused the car to ground over the various humps, and the bottom of the engine had been hitting the ground, which not only wore away the sump and the bell-housing, but also the teeth on the starter ring, so that when he stopped for petrol and a driver-change the starter motor pinion’ would not mesh with the worn flywheel teeth, so the car was push-started at the risk of disqualification.
At the end of 28 laps the Ferrari pit personnel shot straight up in the air and fell about the place in excitement as they saw Schenken heading for the pits. pointing at the left front corner. The tyre had gone flat and in spite of the panic it was quickly changed and the Australian went back into the race still in the lead. The Ferrari team seem to spend their whole life fighting off the unknown variables that appear every time they seem to be in full control. The next routine stops were due after 35 laps and Redman pulled in for fuel and Merzarit, set off, and then the Mirage was in and out like a flash, Bell staying at the wheel, and only stopping for petrol, the stop being in all the old tradition of last year’s Gulf-Porsche team. Merzario in the second place Ferrari was now on “slick” tyres, so the Mirage could not match it for speed, but the time saved on the pit stop helped enormously, and at the end of lap 36 the Mirage went by in second place as Merzario limped to the pits with his right front tyre in shreds! The leading Ferrari had already been to the pits and gone, with Peterson at the wheel again, and running on a new set of “intermediate” tyres, in which state he was more than a match or Bell in the Mirage on “dry-weather” tyres so it now remained to see whether Merzario could oust the Mirage from its well-carried second place in the remaining laps. Although the Ferrari was gaining, in spite of the inoperative clutch and having no rev-counter working, whereas the Mirage rear suspension coil springs had sagged and the car was bottoming badly, we shall never know the outcome, for as the Mirage left the South curve at the start of lap 43, there was a bang and a puff of smoke as the Cosworth V8 engine blew up and Bell switched off and coasted to a stop as Mezario? went by into second place. It was all over, the two Ferraris completed the 44 laps in first and second positions, but it had not been an easy victory.
Of the others in the race, the Chevy-powered Lola T290 was eventually forced out when the continual grounding wore away the rivets on the underside of the chassis and a fuel tank split as the bottom fell out, and the Bonnier/Larrousse Lola T290 dropped back with a misfiring engine which a change of battery did not seem to cure. The Red Rose Racing Chevron of Hine/Bridges ran like clockwork once again, the only trouble being at a stop to fit “dry-weather” tyres when the right-front hub-nut would not do up securely, but they had sufficient lead in the class for this not to matter, and they still held their fifth place overall. The team’s second car, an updated B19 Chevron, driven by Bosch and Hanson, was delayed at the pits tor a long while with a defunct starter motor, eventually finishing twenty-third. Every time Fitzpatrick handed the yellow and red Porsche 911 over to its owner, their lead in the CT class was challenged by Schickentanz and Kauhsen, especially the latter driver and Fitzpatrick then had to work away again to establish a sound lead. Eventually the opposing Porsche crept into the pits with only one set of throttles operating, the brazed joint in the cross-shaft between the two banks of injector trumpets having sheared. It was bodged-up to work again with some hammer and chisel work, but the delay dropped the car to third in the class behind the works-supported Porsche 911, leaving Fitzpatrick and Kremer to win the GT category and be ninth overall behind the two Cologne Ford Capris, which had given an impressive demonstration of speed and reliability to finish seventh and eighth overall. If these blue and white coupés are Group 2 saloon cars, then a 911 Porsche must be a sports car! It would seem that Ford (Germany) are doing what Porsche did a few years ago when the 911 qualified as a saloon car, until the CSI reworded the rules. It would seem to be time to demand all saloon cars to have four doors. Nonetheless, the Capris were very impressive to watch.
Altogether there were 30 cars out of the 50 starters still running at the end of the race, though some of them had only covered 32 laps while the leaders were doing 44 laps, but all credit to anyone who kept going on the slippery surface, for the Nurburgring was not in a good mood. Five cars that were not running at the finish were classified, having covered sufficient laps before retiring, and one of those was the Mirage, which was classified fourth overall, by reason of its 42 laps completed, which was some consolation to Bell and van Lennep, but the Gulf Research Racing team were mostly satisfied with the progress the car is making, the project only having been started last November. — D. S. J.